My kind of town
Last month, my husband and I blew into Chicago for the wedding of the son of one of my dear friends from college. While we were visiting, we strolled around the city taking in the natural beauty of the lake as well as the wonderful cultural institutions that dot the landscape. Chicago is an exciting, engaging city, which benefits from the many family businesses that form the backbone of the business community.
Over the years, these older families established and supported the city’s many arts, cultural and healthcare organizations. Famous names are displayed prominently on the buildings and in the parks, as well as on the walls of hospitals, art institutions, museums and theaters. The generosity of these iconic families—Fields, Wrigleys, McCormicks, Pritzkers, Crowns, Blochs, Adlers, Walgreens and Lavin/Bernicks—is visible throughout, and continues today as the next generation becomes involved.
Chicago is not unique in this altruistic aspect, but rather is typical of cities around the U.S. where family commitment has built the foundations of local society. As I encounter people at family business conferences, and in my own travels around the country, I am especially impressed by the public generosity of families who are connected to family businesses. Not only are names visible, but family members often serve on boards and committees as well as in local government in an effort to sustain and maintain their communities. Part of the family’s mission encompasses the promotion of their family business in addition to these eleemosynary efforts. There is no question that these families have a considerable stake in their communities.
Andrew Keyt, executive director of the Family Business Center at Loyola University in Chicago, agrees. “Because families are an ongoing presence in their community, they take an interest in its long-term viability,” he says. “Family businesses form the foundation of the philanthropic effort, primarily because of their sense of values and also because their name is on the door. They feel responsible for their employees and their communities. This leads families to support initiatives that enrich the lives of [all].”
Public corporations have a much more difficult time determining where the dollars go and how much to give. Their management must answer to a variety of stakeholders, and often there is no genuine commitment to the city, especially if it is not the corporate headquarters.
Next time you travel to another city, take note of the business families who have given back and who continue to be a major presence in their hometowns and beyond.
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